Saturday, September 1, 2007

The hospital crowd

So more about the patients and the hospital… Working at the hospital has definitely been an interesting experience! The patients here are so different from the patients in the U.S. There are usually 8-10 patients in a cubicle, with about 5 cubicles in each ward. Often, a small office gets turned into a 6th or 7th cubicle to cram another 5 patients into. Sometimes patients don't even have a bed, they have a mattress on the floor, sometimes in the hallway, if it's too crowded. The ER never closes because the hospital is too full, you just squeeze more patients in. There is absolutely no privacy - you're lucky if you get a curtain to draw around a single patient. You do procedures at their bedside, often with other patients looking on. The picture below is one of the better cubicles (the "high-intensity" cubicle for sick patients - which is right in front of the nurses station should a patient need immediate attention) on a very uncrowded day. There are no patients on the floors and there are a good number of curtains up.

So the patients are crowded together, usually not more than a foot from each other, they have no TV, no books, nothing, and visiting hours are only from 6-7:30am, 1-2pm, and 4-5pm and 6-7:30pm every day. And surprisingly, the hospital and the nurses are very strict about the hours. So right at 1pm, all these friends and family stream in, and right at 2pm, they leave. They're actually sort of necessary because the hospital is so understaffed that often the family helps bathe the patients or feed them if the patients can't feed themselves. The patients come in pretty sick too, because they often don't want to go to the hospital until their symptoms are super bad. Despite all this stuff, the patients rarely, if ever, complain. They just sit there everyday and wait patiently for us to come see them, and to get better. It's such a change from the U.S. patients, who have such a sense of entitlement, and demand every little thing, even things like mashed potatoes for dinner or something.

Patients rarely sue anybody here, and they put up with a lot more crap than do patients in the U.S. I guess that’s necessary because I think mismanagement of a case is pretty common. I think there are a variety of reasons for it – number one being the fact that the hospital is way understaffed. There are not enough doctors, nurses, social workers, physiotherapists, anything you could possibly think of. I also believe (and this is almost definitely egocentric) that the doctors and nurses here are not as well-trained, and so there is some medical mismanagement because of that. The Penn people are very good, but the other doctors sometimes are just here to do their job and make money (not that it’s a huge amount) – they don’t put in the effort to learn, teach, or really help patients get better. I’ve seen so many patients come in with congestive heart failure get put in fluids, or people with focal brain tumors that are obvious on physical exam, get diagnosed with meningitis. It’s a little embarrassing sometimes. Of course, when you get 10 admissions in a night, and are covering 100 other patients, sometimes it’s difficult to do an appropriate workup of a patient. But still, the lack of knowledge can be appalling.

There’s this one M.O. (a doctor who has only finished internship only) the other day who was getting grilled about a patient during intake as she was presenting. The patient had right upper quadrant abdominal pain, and she gave her differential diagnosis as pneumonia. Horrible. When the chief of the hospital asked her what else it could possible be, she could only answer pneumonia… so then he asked her what organs might possibly be in the right upper quadrant. She said spleen. And that’s all she could come with. And this is a doctor! Awful.

The nurses here are also very different. They don't do much here - they don't do IV's, blood draws, put in foley catheters, etc., so you have to do it all yourself. Believe it or not, I actually miss the nurses at HUP. :) I guess some things are still the same – some nurses and good, some are nice, some are moody, some refuse to do anything. There’s a whole variety.

The diseases we see here are different too - we see a ton of HIV and advanced AIDS-related illnesses here: TB (which can be anywhere), cryptococcus (which can be anywhere), PCP pneumonia, different cancers. I'd say about 75% of my patients are HIV positive, which allows a lot of this other stuff (TB, PCP, cancers) to happen. Botswana actually has a free HIV medication program (which is a whole separate topic for a different day) for all of its citizens. Even so, many of the patients refuse to take their medications and instead take traditional medications. They’ve caught patients throwing their medications down the toilet or in the trash before. And sometimes these traditional medications – we have no idea what they are – cause kidney failure or liver failure! I guess that’s the most frustrating thing about these patients, even though they are super nice and appreciative, and their families are by and large amazing in terms of support.

In general, there are so many patients you just can't take care of all of them - some stuff just has to slip through the cracks and you have to let it go. You're already working twice as hard as many of the Botswana doctors and at some point you have to go home, but that means some patient is probably going to die. Luckily I didn't have anyone die on me for my first two weeks, but it's really just luck - almost every team has an average of one patient die every day or two. I will probably have a patient die on me this weekend because there’s less care during the weekend. There’s usually two people covering all 100 patients, and they are really only required to see the sickest ones. It’s also difficult if they admit 10-30 patients over the weekend to see the other sick patients already on the ward – they are just so busy! However, other people just don't take as good care of your patients than you do when you're actually at the hospital. And any signout you give to the covering doctor doesn't usually get done, but it depends a little on who you sign out to and who’s covering the weekend. I guess these things are just things you have to let go because you can’t be at the hospital all the time.


Mama said...

Wow, your post makes me appreciate the healthcare we have here!

I couldn't imagine being a patient in the hospital, with nothing to do, with my only source of entertainment being the guy next to me getting his left kidney removed or something. Ick! I can't even imagine!

JoJoJangJang said...

Yeah, patients in the U.S. should definitely take a look at these hospitals here before complaining. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Jo...

A place like that must really be giving you some perspective. There is so much that we take for granted here in America. I feel like a big spoiled brat after reading what those patients go through.


Pete said...

Gaining and keeping proper perspective is a lifetime endeavor. It's a good thing you're so strong and can deal with this - I know I would go crazy and start screaming at people.

On a less serious note...

Hi mama! I'm leaving in a few hours and will see our girl soon. I can't wait!